THE LOOK: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CLIPPERS UNIFORM
Four years ago NBA uniforms were heavy and no one realized it.
“They were much heavier [than today],” said Clippers longtime equipment manager Pete Serrano. “There wasn’t really technology in them.”
That all changed on opening night of the 2010-11 season, when Adidas, the NBA’s exclusive uniform provider, introduced the Revolution 30. The sleek new jerseys were 30 percent lighter, faster drying, and reduced friction between the garment and the player’s skin. According to Clippers Vice President of Sponsorship Sales Christian Howard, it was a “performance fabric that changed the game.”
The modern evolution of the jersey ramped up since.
Adidas took an unprecedented step in basketball uniform design when the Golden State Warriors debuted gold form-fitting, short-sleeve jerseys during a Feb. 22 game against the San Antonio Spurs. The short-sleeve look is expected to be the next jersey revelation, or revolution, in a league that tends to set trends rather than follow them.
It’s no coincidence that the Clippers, then, will play their five-game slate in the Las Vegas Summer League, beginning Friday, July 12, with replicas of the short-sleeve look Golden State showed off a few months ago. According to Serrano, the jerseys for the two-week event will be black for “away” games and white when the Clippers are the “home” team with the team insignia and lettering across the front.
“I love them. I think they look amazing,” Serrano said. “I think it’s such a new item. We’ve never seen anything like this in our entire lifetime. It is such a big change.”
The Clippers wore a similar prototype during a regular-season practice last year and the results were favorable. Several players, including Caron Butler and Ryan Hollins, often wore them to workout afterwards. The jerseys during Summer League will test the waters for what could be a new wave of uniform in the coming years.
“The jersey basically feels invisible once you put it on,” Serrano said. “When we did our prototypes, it was amazing because it legitimately becomes invisible. And I think once all the players in the league get a chance to wear it they will love it.”
Veteran Clippers equipment manager Pete Serrano has seen the various changes to jerseys, uniforms and accessories over the more than 20 years he’s been with the team. One of the more noticeable or interesting changes to him, when he reflected on the way uniforms used to be handled was the lack of names on the back of jerseys for free agent players in the preseason.
“Every preseason, the entire eight or nine games, whatever it would be, you would watch teams playing each other and pretty much see who were the free agent guys because no teams would put your last name on the uniform and you would use the same uniform multiple years over and over unless that player made the roster,” Serrano recalled. “No matter what games you watched, all the teams would have their three or four free agents with no name on the back. That changed about 15 years ago.”
The Clippers emergence as one of the top draws in the NBA, along with owning one of the league’s best records (96-52) over the last two seasons, has made the team an ideal partner for what Adidas calls its “younger, faster, global” campaign.
“Adidas came to us and said they are looking for teams that are representative of what they are trying to do,” Howard said.
It makes sense, according to Serrano, because of the marketability of guys like Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.
“Blake fits everything to perfection,” Serrano said. “He’s perfection when you look at the way wears his clothing. And it all goes along with his size. If you look at the way he wears everything.”
Baggier uniforms were initiated by Michael Jordan’s “long” shorts in the 1980s and popularized by Michigan’s “Fab 5” in 1991-93. The day when a player was effectively swimming in a jersey and shorts that is two or three times larger than his regular size has gone by the wayside.
“Everything’s changed again,” Serrano said. “For instance, DeAndre Jordan, who’s probably the biggest guy on the team, he wears a large tall T-shirt. It doesn’t look small on him. Everything’s changed across the board. No one is wearing anything that’s big. Everything is fitting, fitting to perfection.
“All 30 teams would tell you that nobody wants anything big. Everyone’s going medium, large, XL tall. No one is going three-X. Even a big a 7-footer, who would always wear three-X this or four-X that, will not wear it anymore.”
Serrano thinks that trend began with the 2008 Olympic team, which had uniforms that were form-fitting and regal. The shorts were long, but not overly baggy. The jerseys were lightweight and were tighter than traditional NBA uniforms around the chest and shoulders. Then, when Adidas gained exclusive rights as the league’s jersey provider in 2010, it went from a trend to a full-blown culture change.
“Basically, they (Adidas) could make amazing uniforms and put technology into it that would cut the percentage of weight down significantly,” Serrano said. “It was drastic, the way they were able to bring in this new material. That was kind of the beginning of the slimmer fit. It’s more of a sleek looking fit.”
With that, the NBA has also marketed various alternate jerseys and third road uniforms, which actually was first attempted by the Atlanta Hawks, who wore green alternate uniforms from 1970 to 1972. The regular addition of a third road uniform, such as the Clippers’ blue alternates that were reintroduced in 2012-13, did not emerge for another 22 years. The Magic wore black alternates, the Hornets had purple and the Pistons had a red uniform that played off of their classic blues. A year later, the Bulls, Bucks and Heat added a third jersey and things went from there.
The Clippers have worn blue alternates on two separate occasions. They added a blue third uniform in 2001 and carried into the 2010 season. After a two-year absence it was brought back prior to the 2012-13 season and the Clippers debuted it in their preseason opener in Las Vegas.
“Everywhere we went people would ask about those blue uniforms,” Serrano said. “The moment we started the season, the first game we played to start this year. The moment they put them on it was a huge success. What a great place to bring those out on the Las Vegas Strip.
“I think they look great and I kind of missed not having that option for that short amount of time.”
While the Clippers have participated in several programs with Adidas, including last season’s special-red on-red BIG Color promotion on Christmas Day, their traditional red, white and blue jerseys have looked relatively the same during their 37-year history in Los Angeles.
“What we have now versus what we had years and years ago is not that much different,” Howard said. “It’s stayed pretty much true. The colors haven’t changed. It’s been pretty static. I think there has been a belief and an ideal to keep them somewhat similar.”
Howard, President Andy Roeser and Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing Carl Lahr have overseen the changes, however minor, to the team’s uniforms over the years.
“We have a fairly classic look,” said Lahr, who has been with the Clippers for more than two decades. “We’re red, white and blue. The ‘Clippers’ script is pretty distinctive.”
One of the first road uniforms in Los Angeles, used from 1987-88 through 1988-89, actually bears a resemblance to the team’s newest iteration, with “Los Angeles” scripted across the chest.
“I love that we use the Los Angeles script,” Lahr said. “We thought it would have a worldwide appeal.
“It was a stronger marketing platform to put Los Angeles on there. We thought it would be a stronger marketing position to be able to market yourself as L.A. Anyone who lives here thinks it’s the greatest city in the world. We wanted players to be proud of the city they represent,” Lahr said in explaining the change from Clippers scripted across the chest of the road uniform more than 25 years and altering it to say Los Angeles prior to 2010-11.
The Clippers have maintained subtle changes since coming to Los Angeles with effectively four uniform alterations since 1984-85. Here is a look at how the Clippers’ look has evolved over the years:
PRIOR TO L.A.
The debut: Elmore Smith wearing the 1970 Buffalo Braves home whites with black and orange colors, diagonal lines swiping across the chest down to the shorts, the “B” logo on the left side and the jersey number and team name crowded onto the right.
Baby blue: The Braves switched to a more traditional block letter font with black piping on white numbers atop a baby blue jersey. They kept the baby blue for the remainder of the time in Buffalo and even wore it for much of the team’s tenure in San Diego.
San Diego: Buffalo became moved more than 3,000 miles west and became the Clippers. They kept the baby blue base color but added orange piping on the cartoonish font that spelled “San Diego” across the chest in 1980. There nautical flags embroidered along the wide white stripes on each leg of the shorts.
WELCOME TO L.A.
1984-86 to 1986-87: The initial Clippers uniforms after moving to Los Angeles had an authoritative “C,” dwarfing each of the other seven letters on the chest of both their home and away jerseys. The team wore red, white and blue and utilized navy away uniforms for three seasons.
1987-88 to 1988-89: The first red road jersey was introduced as well as the classic “Clippers” script that has emblazoned the front of the home jersey since. Lahr said the change from blue to red was one of his favorite alterations to the team’s uniforms in his tenure. “Most people now think of the Clippers as red. That was one of the first big changes, going from blue to red. It was bold, bright.” They also added “Los Angeles” across the chest of the road jersey and after one season with blue numbers and white accents, reversed it to have white numbers with blue.
1989-90 to 1999-00: The words “Clippers” are added to the road jersey, replacing “Los Angeles” (which only last for two years). Red and blue piping is added to the side of the uniform, stretching from the armpit to the tip of the shorts. The waistband also shifted from a solid color to striped look. Otherwise, the home jerseys were almost identical to the previous iteration.
2000-01 to 2009-10: Shortly after the team moved to Staples Center, they made some more noticeable additions to their uniform. They added the blue alternate, put the LAC secondary logo in a triangle wear the collar connected above the Clippers script and added solid thick stripes down the side of the jersey. The script on both the home and away jerseys were made to look bolder as well.
2010-11 to present: With the Adidas Revolution 30 uniforms came a sleeker all-around look. The script, according to Howard, was fixed to ensure the “C” was the same font as the remaining letters. The script “Los Angeles” was implemented on the road jersey (and blue alternate in 2012-13). The stripe down the sides were made to look more modern and aerodynamic with a smaller red stripe being included within the blue on the home uniform (imagine the opposite on the road ones).
Christmas 2012: “The theme was BIG Color,” Serrano said. “So, color had everything to do with it. I’ve never seen anything in any sport, head-to-toe, where the shoes, socks pretty much everything was one color. I’ve never seen that before
Hardwood Classics: A throwback to the San Diego Clippers, the wildly popular white, powder blue and orange jersey can still be seen around Staples Center today, typically with Quentin Richardson’s No. 3
Los Angeles Stars: It was for ABA heritage night and the Clippers modeled everything after the defunct and short-lived L.A. Stars. While they were not direct descendants of the franchise, they at least had colors that were similar. The star pattern down the rib cage and shorts is one of the best looking parts.